Friday, January 12, 2007

So Few of Me

So Few of Me by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick, 2006) is about To Do list pressures. It seems like if there were more than one Leo, he'd have a better shot at getting his tasks done. But no matter how many Leos there are, the more responsibilities pile up. In the end, Leo does less, but offers it his best effort. A simple solution, yet one so many of us struggle to employ. The text and illustrations are airy, flow well. Recommended for ages 4-up; at least as well suited to overscheduled teens and adults as younger children. Maybe even better.

My Thoughts

It seems "balance" ranks high on many working writers' lists of new year's resolutions. Leo's answer: Do less, but give it your all. This makes perfect sense in theory, but still we struggle. What do we cut? How?

I'm a writer. Therefore, I write. I love to craft short stories, but I found myself turning down a couple of invitations last year from anthologists I admire--one because my muse had temporarily abandoned me, the other because of a tight deadline and competing family responsibilities. Yet I know that my other fiction is stronger because of the chances I've taken, the lessons I've learned as a short story writer. I also imagine someday publishing a collection of my contemporary Native American YA short stories. I know that when the next invitation comes, my answer may well be "yes."

I'm a writer. Therefore, I read. A shocking number of writers underestimate the importance of reading, especially beginners. They do so at their own peril. It is through reading (and listening to stories told aloud) that we develop an "ear," a feeling for story structure, a sense of each market, and, ultimately, that we discover what we want to say in the conversation among books. Publishers, publicists, authors, and illustrators send me titles for review consideration, and I've studied them with great enthusiasm. Yet due to time constraints and consistent quality concerns, I'm considering changing my policy to exclude self-published titles. On the other hand, Debbie Leland, a self-published author whose work I'm featuring on Cynsations this week, is among the finest I know.

I'm a writer. Therefore, I'm part of a community of writers and a larger community of readers, including editors, teachers, librarians, and booksellers. Over the years, I've taught, spoken, mentored beginners, talked shop over lunch, hosted workshops and parties. It's these people who understand and share my passion for books, for the writing life. It's with them that I belong, not exclusively but at least enough that I don't feel alone and that I can bolster them in return. I especially enjoy supporting new voices. But at this time, I can't actively mentor any additional beginners, not with my teaching commitments.

I'm an author. Therefore, I'm an ambassador of my own children's and young adult literature. Most authors are the best point people to connect their books to others. I'm comfortable that I can represent my work in a positive and productive way. But more than that, I enjoy it. I have a lot to say about my process and the stories I write. I'm honored when readers are interested in learning more. Yet I say "no" to more than half of the invitations in my IN box, usually--but not always--because I'm already booked. Even promoting at home can be too much for one person, especially one who is supposed to be a writer first. This past fall, I hired publicist Rebecca Grose and web designer Lisa Firke to help me navigate through the narrow marketing window for Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006). It's okay, I've learned, to get help when you need it.

Along with folks like Esme Raji Codell, Chris Barton, and the collective of author bloggers, it's also my pleasure to highlight and cheer the work of my colleagues. I find inspiration in the stories of my peers. I love being able to help introduce a debut author or a departure from a quality mid-lister or the latest news from the famed and acclaimed. It also feeds my inner journalist. Much of what I do is online, but when Netscape "improved" its web design program, I was in over my head and offering an amaturish-looking site. Again, it was designer Lisa Firke, who brought me into the 21rst century. Now, much of my daily efforts are through blogging, which is so much quicker and easier. Better yet, I finally have high-speed Internet.

So what's my strategy?

It's fluid. Sometimes, I have to say "no" or ask for help or embrace the latest technology. I try different approaches, mix it up, realize the writing and promotion of each book brings with them specific demands. Rather than feeling trapped in a certain way of doing things, I continue to experiment, seeking the balance that suits my life at a particular time.

Rather than angsting over what I can't control, I jump on the treadmill and pound out an hour to soundtracks to "The Blues Brothers," "Xanadu," or "Buffy: The Musical." Maybe you're thinking, isn't working out another To Do? And the answer is "yes," but it gives me more energy for the rest of them.

Most of all, though, I keep in mind that it is a priviledge to write for young readers and those who connect books to them. That if the mix isn't working, it can always be changed. That I have as much control of my life as I'm willing to take. That I'm living my dream.